ERB305 Geological Field Methods

Unit synopsis

Field experience is an essential part of the professional training of geologists, environmental scientists and natural resource specialists in general. The theory and practice of methods to map, measure and interpret important geological features and characteristics are essential to the study of geology. Methods of mapping, orientation and interpretation are necessary skills for resource assessment, geo-exploration and environmental impact assessment. This unit assumes knowledge of geological principles and methods, namely structural geology and lithology (sedimentary, igneous and metamorphic rocks). It provides professional experiences that is essential for the employability for geology graduates.

Science and Engineering Faculty
Earth Systems
Study area
Science and mathematics
Credit points

Dates and locations

Teaching period Dates Locations
Semester 1, 2018 19 February 2018 - 22 June 2018
  • Gardens Point
Semester 1, 2019 25 February 2019 - 21 June 2019
  • Gardens Point


Commonwealth supported place (CSP) student contribution amount
2018: $1,148
Domestic fee-paying student fee
2018: $4,284
International student fee
2018: $4,452

Guide to fees

Commonwealth supported place (CSP) student contribution amount
For Australian citizens, permanent visa holders and permanent humanitarian visa holders, and New Zealand citizens who study this unit:
  • as part of a QUT course and are eligible for a Commonwealth supported place (CSP)
  • as a cross-institutional student who has a Commonwealth supported place at their home university.
Domestic fee-paying student fee
For Australian citizens, permanent visa holders and permanent humanitarian visa holders, and New Zealand citizens, who study this unit:
  • as part of a QUT course and are not eligible for a Commonwealth supported place (CSP)
  • as part of a QUT course during Summer Semester
  • as a cross-institutional student who does not have a Commonwealth supported place at their home university
  • as a single-unit study student.
International student fee
For international students who study this unit:
  • as part of a QUT course
  • as part of our study abroad or exchange programs
  • as a cross-institutional student.

Previous study requirements

( ERB203 or NQB413) and ( ERB204 or NQB412) and ( ERB206 or NQB411)

Guide to previous study requirements

To enrol in this unit, you must have completed these prerequisite units (or have credit, advanced standing or exemption for them), or be able to demonstrate that you have equivalent background knowledge.
You can’t enrol in this unit if you have completed any of these anti-requisite units.
To enrol in this unit, you must have already completed these co-requisite units, or you must enrol in them at the same time.
You can’t enrol in this unit if you have completed any of these equivalent units.
Assumed knowledge
We assume that you have a minimum level of knowledge in certain areas before you start this unit.

Unit outlines


Dr Christoph Schrank
3138 1583


Field experience is an essential part of the professional training of geologists, environmental scientists and natural resource specialists. The theory and application of methods for the mapping, measurement and interpretation of 3D geological features as well as the reading and interpretation of geological maps and cross-sections are essential to the study of geology. They constitute necessary skills for resource assessment, geo-exploration and environmental impact assessment. This unit assumes knowledge of basic geological principles and methods, foremost those developed in the study of structural geology and sedimentary, igneous and metamorphic petrology. It provides professional experiences that are commonly expected by geology graduates employed in industry and academia.


The aim of this unit is to provide you with the fundamental skills required for the identification, classification, measurement, mapping and interpretation of the formation of the 3D geological rock record contained within exposed geological bodies. The unit provides an overview of the theory and practice of methods used to describe, analyse, document, and interpret geological systems in the field. Theory modules in the classroom are designed to train you in the basic techniques of field studies and the construction as well as quantitative interpretation of geological maps and cross-sections. The field-mapping excursion at the end of term allows you to develop and test your skills with a real-world geological mapping problem. The field site has been chosen to provide you with an optimal learning experience that integrates all field-based disciplines of the Earth Sciences encountered in your course of study thus far. You will use the scientific method to develop problem-recognition and problem-solving skills through project design, data collection, analysis and interpretation, and reporting that meet industry and academic standards.

Learning outcomes

Upon completing this unit you will:

1. Demonstrate your knowledge of the basic theory and application of principles related to the design, practical planning and undertaking of field surveys.
2. Be able to employ equipment and procedures to collect, analyse and present geological data from field surveys effectively in written and graphical form through scientific reports, maps, and cross sections.
3. Formulate, test and revise geologic hypotheses iteratively using field observations with the goal to explain the geologic history of an area
4. Demonstrate your ability to offer an interpretation of the geological history of the field site firmly rooted in the mapped rock record
5. Conduct field surveys and the related data acquisition techniques independently and in teams.


The content introduces methods for:

(1) Field survey design: choice of field tools and base maps, strategies for exploring the architecture of geological bodies in a time-efficient way, choosing a scale for mapping, etc.
(2) Field analysis: how to read the terrain, what should be recorded, what can be disregarded, etc.
(3) The accurate recording of field observations: the spatial distribution and geometrical properties (thickness, orientation) of rock types, their boundaries, and deformation structures
(4) Map reading and geometrical analysis: understanding of topographic contour lines, derivation of the orientation of planar and linear features in maps (e.g., contacts, sedimentary layering, fault planes, fold axes, displacement vectors), estimation of area and volume proportions of rock types, identification of relative ages by analysing overprinting relations
(5) Geological map and cross-section construction: basic mapping projections, choice and mode of display of necessary information and data, construction of 3D planar and linear features in 2D map view, etc.
(6) Data interpretation: interpretation of the 3D rock architecture recorded, visualised and analysed through maps, cross-sections, lithological logs, metamorphic phase diagrams, and stereographic projections in terms of a geological history
(7) Map and report presentation: composition of a comprehensive report of the mapping campaign according to academic and industry standards
(8) Teamwork: advice on the effective collaboration in field surveys

The field site is in Arkaroola, a property that covers most of the Mt Painter Inlier in the northernmost Flinders Ranges, South Australia. The spectacularly rugged countryside contains a broad range of geology from high-grade metamorphic rocks to well-preserved igneous and sedimentary sequences with preserved primary textures, juxtaposed by spectacular large-scale deformation structures.

Approaches to teaching and learning

Teaching and learning strategies include workshops and fieldwork. Workshops during the semester will introduce and practice the skills and knowledge vital for the successful completion of the fieldwork using exercises on field survey design and mapping, map reading, cross-section construction, rock identification, data collection, analysis, interpretation and presentation.

These workshops are followed by two weeks of field mapping in Arkaroola, South Australia. The mapping excursion puts the skills learned in the workshops into practice and integrates them with the fundamental skills and knowledge obtained in all previous Earth-Science units. The field project develops rigorous field-analytical and problem-solving skills whilst working within groups. Group work aims to improve your communication and collaboration skills and satisfies health and safety requirements of work in remote terrains.

The preparation of individual field reports according to professional standards allows you to integrate your skills in recording and visualising 3D geological data quantitatively and qualitatively with interpreting the rock record in terms of a geological history.
Formative oral feedback will be given on workshop exercises and written feedback on a summative examination conducted during the semester. Oral and written feedback will be supplied for field maps, cross-sections, and project reports.

Assessment items

Name #1: Problem Solving Task
DescriptionAt the halfway point of the fieldtrip, your mapping team will participate in a 30-minute interview with the teaching team, which assesses your mapping progress and ensures that you are on the right track to completing your task. You will present the relevant geological data you collected so far: lithostratigraphic columns, ternary diagrams for the classification of metamorphic rocks, your "mud map", a sketched interpretative map, schematic cross-sections, and summary Schmidt nets displaying and classifying the relevant deformation structures. On the basis of these data, your team will argue your working hypothesis for the geological history of the research area.
Due dateDuring field trip
Internal or externalBoth
Group or individualGroup
Relates to learning outcomes1 - 5.
Name #2: Report
DescriptionTake-home field report and including an interpretative geological map and related cross- sections integrating field data and observations in terms of a geological history of the mapped region. (submitted one week after the field trip)
Due dateafter field trip
Internal or externalInternal
Group or individualIndividual
Relates to learning outcomes1-5
Name #3: Examination (written)
DescriptionA written mid-term examination will test your ability to (1) construct geometrically accurate geological maps and cross-sections from spatial geological data, (2) analyse existing geological maps quantitatively and qualitatively in terms of orientation data and overprinting relationships, and (3) derive a geological history from a geological map.
Due dateMid-semester
Internal or externalInternal
Group or individualIndividual
Relates to learning outcomes1-4

Academic integrity

QUT is committed to maintaining high academic standards to protect the value of its qualifications. To assist you in assuring the academic integrity of your assessment you are encouraged to make use of the support materials and services available to help you consider and check your assessment items. Important information about the university's approach to academic integrity of assessment is on your unit Blackboard site.

A breach of academic integrity is regarded as Student Misconduct and can lead to the imposition of penalties.

Resource materials

Hardbound field notebook (Chartwell Survey Book 2057 or similar), pencils, coloured pencils, pens, eraser, calculator, clear plastic ruler, pair of compasses, protractor, geo-pick, safety glasses, backpack, grain size comparator, Schmidt net including tracing paper, clipboard, bulldog clips for holding the maps. Any equipment you used in class, you will need in the field. Geologic compasses will be provided.

Good sturdy outdoor boots (no trainers, thongs, stilettoes, etc. in the field), warm/wet weather gear, comfortable field clothes, sun hat, sun screen, medication you may need - be prepared for all weather circumstances, temperatures may drop below zero at night.
A full list of recommendations on what to bring will be circulated prior to the field trip.

Recommended reading

1. Richard J. Lisle , Peter Brabham , John W. Barnes (2011) Basic Geological Mapping, 5th Edition, Wiley
2. Richard H. Groshong, Jr. (2006) 3-D Structural Geology - A practical guide to quantitative surface and subsurface map interpretation, 2nd edition, Springer
3. Stephen Rowland et al. (2007) Structural Analysis & Synthesis - A laboratory course in structural geology, 3rd edition, Blackwell publishing
4. Maurice E. Tucker (2011) Sedimentary Rocks in the Field: A Practical Guide, 4th Edition , Wiley
5. Dougal Jerram, Nick Petford (2011) The Field Description of Igneous Rocks, 2nd Edition , Wiley
6. Norman Fry (1991) The Field Description of Metamorphic Rocks, Wiley
7. Compton R (1985) Geology in the Field, Wiley

Risk assessment statement

There are risks associated with fieldwork, and these will be explained prior to the trip. As supervisors, we have an obligation of care but our liability does not extend to cover actions of deliberate neglect by individuals. Continued breaches of safety guidelines may result in your dismissal from the trip.
You are legally required to fill in and sign a field trip consent form supplied via Blackboard in week 1. This form is designed to collect essential information needed to optimise the health and safety of all participants. You have an obligation to disclose any health issues, including suspected health issues, which may pose a risk to yourself or others in the context of the Field Trip. QUT will confidentially assess all health issues and take reasonable actions to manage any risks and ensure your participation in Field Trip activities. You are encouraged to contact either a Disability Adviser (Ph: 3138 2699 or Email: ) or QUT Counselling Services (Ph: 3138 2383) for more information if you believe that your capacity to attend and/or participate may be impacted by your physical or mental health condition.

Field-trip participants will spend on average eight hours per day conducting an outdoor geological mapping exercise in groups of three. This involves strategic walking of the area along transects or following relevant lithological/structural boundaries, during which outcrops are examined in regular intervals or when the geology requires it. Outcrop examination usually includes careful exposing of fresh rock surfaces with a geopick, the use of the hand lens on rock specimens in hand- or outcrop sample, and the use of the geological compass for geo-location and measurement of 3D fabric elements. A satellite image with superposed topographic map is used for locating oneself and the recording of observations (in addition to the field book).
The terrain of the research area (ca. 15 km2) is rugged, generally pathless, arid bush with short-wavelength, partly very steep topography (amplitude is of order 300 m). Field-trip participants will walk on rocky, uneven surfaces as a rule. Due to the aridity, vegetation is sparse, and one is exposed to the sun, wind, etc. The conditions are extremely dry. Daily transects cover cumulative lengths in the range of 4 to 10 km across multiple hills. High levels of physical fitness and endurance are required.


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